family secrets

I have gotten used to missing most of the conversation that my family has over dinner, not knowing when special things are happening prior to their occurance, and being generally confused most of the time. This experience notwithstanding, I assumed, until about a week ago, that my family would tell me if anything really BIG was happening; there are certain things you have to tell family, right?

The other Sunday we had an extended-family lunch in honor of Chu Hung's father's death anniversary. I purposely positioned myself next to the younger of my two sisters, Nga, intending to make a point to converse with her. My first question was about whether she thought her cousin and his girlfriend will get married soon (I really want to go to a wedding while I'm here). My second question: "Why do random people come to look at our house sometimes?"

It was something I had been wondering for a while. One time the following thought crossed my mind: "Its like our house is for sale or something." But I immediatly rejected this half-formed idea with another, "It can't be. Surely I would know about that."

I learned how wrong I was when Nga responded with, "We sell the house." Obviously, her tone seemed to add, quite helpfully. After I managed to close my gaping mouth, I gleaned as much information as I could...Moving. In about a month. Clearly.

I've learned a bit more since then. My family is planning to buy land and build a house (a bigger, nicer one, apparently). Until then, they will rent a house on the other side of West Lake. I have heard that we will move by November 15, but I haven't noticed any preparations unless you count buying a new car. I'm interested to see what the Vietnamese process of moving will look like.

The anticipated move has one particular perk--It will put me much closer to the homes of Ali and Hannah. However, it also means a longer bike ride to work at The Gioi Publishers, as well re-settling into a new place and routine. But it's ok--those of you who know me well know that I am excellent at dealing with change. (And those of you who don't know me so well but have been reading this blog are probably learning to detect my always-subtle sarcasm)

If nothing else, I expect that I will gain a few interesting stories and extensive knowledge of the roads in another part of Hanoi. And I will have learned to make less assumptions about the sort of information that families necessarily tell each other.


breakthrough? a.k.a. what chocolate chip cookies can do for the world.

I think I may have had a breakthrough in the area of relating to my teenage sister with whom I struggle to feel that I have anything in common with. At. All.

Last week I was still lounging around the house in the wake of dengue fever. I anticipated being bored out of my mind--and often was--but managed a few preventative measures that made the week bearable....

...like baking chocolate chip cookies! I made them to take to Bible Study and, as an afterthought, invited my sister, Quynh to "help" me.

There are a few things that make baking chocolate chip cookies in Viet Nam--baking anything actually--more of an adventure than at home.

1) It is difficult to find even the most basic and essential ingredients. I went to a large supermarket close to my house that, being in a touristy area, I assumed would have at least some of the ingredients I needed. You would think I've been in Viet Nam long enough to not make such silly assumptions. They did have white sugar there (of course!), which my family already has anyways. And butter. However, even after searching aisles full of pre-packaged cookies and cakes--all of which are made of flour!--I failed to find a bag of flour. So, I took a trip to a little "foreigner grocery store" where I tried to read labels in a variety of languages I didn't know (like German) and to discern whether I was buying flour or something very different that closely resembled it. All that being said--I managed to find everything I needed.

2) The ingredients are very expensive, as one might guess considering their rarity. There goes my month's spending money...

3) My family does not have measuring cups...oh well, guesstimation is my favorite method, anyways.

4) Last, but most certainly not least--like most Vietnamese kitchens, ours does not have an oven. This is still very strange to me, although it actually makes a lot of sense considering that Vietnamese really don't bake. Ever. Solution? The toaster oven!

After impatiently waiting for Quynh to finish her "extra" class before we could make cookies--and even regretting that I had invited her to join--I was so glad that I had waited.

She loved it.

Quynh was not a good batter stir-er at all, and I could have made the cookies much more easily without her "help." But it was worth it to hear her squeal. Yes, squeal. She showed far more emotion over those cookies than I have seen her show about anything in the month and a half that I've known her.

The best word I can think of to describe what this experience was for me (and what I hope it was for her) is humanizing. Prior to this, I just could not find anything that I had in common with Quynh; thus, even though I wanted to make an effort to get to know her, I was at a complete loss as to how to do so. Now I know that, if nothing else, we both love chocolate chip cookies. And that this 15-year-old girl has feelings. Moreover, having experienced this connection once makes me want to find other ways to encourage its repetition.

Everyone knows that chocolate chip cookies are delicious and fun to make, but who ever knew their potential?

If Obama really did decide to send more troops to Afghanistan but armed them with chocolate chips instead of guns (or whatever they use to kill people these days) and planned a cookie-making party instead of an ambush, then, if such decisions were mine to make, I would award him the Nobel Peace Prize...

But since even I recognize the idealism of the above scenerio, I'll just keep looking for ways to remind myself that my sisters aren't as different from me as I usually think and--I hope--show them that I'm not as intimidating as I (apparently) look.


facebook album

I just posted an album of pictures on facebook. They are pictures from around Hanoi in my first 2 months. Here is the link:

Facebook Album

I commented on some of them for you all so you might have some idea of what you're looking at.


vietnamese morning exercise

If you walk around any lake in Hanoi between 5 and 7 am any morning, you will witness Vietnamese-style exercise taking place. You will see many people walking and a few people running...and many more interesting things. If you are a morning person, this could be your free entertainment for life. Here is a video clip of Vietnamese people exercising. Watch it for a glimpse into my life. You will not be disappointed!

Vietnamese Morning Exercise Video Clip

wandering around west lake

On Monday, I was under the doctor's orders to stay home and "rest." As I have mentioned before, I have been going crazy with boredom, so I decided to do some boredom prevention and go for a walk to Hồ Tây (West Lake), which is quite close to my home. I often walk there--both out of sheer boredom and because I love walks--which has given my Vietnamese family the impression that I exercise soooo much. It is not really a long walk by my standards...by Vietnamese standards, however--pretty much a walking marathon.

Anyway, I took some pictures of this--probably one of the most beautiful areas of Hanoi. (And added comments) Enjoy!

West Lake: Compensation for riding my bike at least a half hour to get everywhere I ever need to go.

The ice cream shop on the road between the lakes.

My favorite road in Hanoi. Probably because it is home to....

My favorite restaurant in Hanoi!!! Foodshop 45, home of amazing Indian food for a very reasonable price. And they deliver (for free!). Although I usually prefer to get out of the house and sit on the cool cushions on the floor...

View from the coffee shop where I enjoyed a yogurt coffee.

The big road by my house.

Where I turn to go to my house.

This picture is by request--Sorry for those of you who did not request it and are now scarred for life. This is my ankle and foot at the time when my dengue fever rash was at its height. Notice how well it blends into my pinky-orange bedspread.

So, I hope you enjoyed this glimpse into my life! You are probably not nearly as tired after looking at the pictures as I was after my walk! I guess that's what lying in bed for a week will do to your legs!


in case you ever wondered what it's like to stay in a vietnamese clinic for 2 days and nights...

...it's very boring. I would avoid it at all costs.

And if you happen to have dengue fever, you may leave said clinic with terribly ugly, bright red, spotted, itchy feet and legs...yet another reason to stay away.

If you have been wondering about my lack of blog posts and have not heard rumors from an alternate source..., last Thursday I developed a mystery fever that turned out to be Dengue Fever and culminated in a two-day, two-night stay in the clinic with an IV stuck in my arm. Not my favorite part of my Vietnamese experience as of yet, but an experience worth telling about nonetheless.

While the clinic could hardly be commended for its stellar selection of TV channels (STAR Movies played Shallow Hal not once, but twice! but nothing else particularly desireable) or for the small child screaming in the next room, it did have a few saving graces, namely:

-the fact that I was able to choose whatever I wanted to eat, something I am rapidly growing to appreciate. However, even this was less than pleasant considering that I had absolutely no appetite.
-the gracious visits of my friends, who bore me many gifts (including more oranges than I could ever hope to eat and beautiful lilies in an aluminum keg from Bia Hoi 38!)...I even had the priviledge of entertaining my MCC Country Rep, something I have heard is a great privilege not to be taken lightly.
-the medical care. It was quite good, I think, this being the first time I remember ever staying in the hospital overnight.
-also, the attractive French nurse was an added bonus. Unfortunately, I wasn't looking my best, so he didn't even ask for my phone number. I guess he doesn't go for the red, spotted type, with strangely sticking-up hair. That's what I'll tell myself, anyways, in order to keep my spirits up...

I was discharged on Thursday and have not had a fever since. However, I am not supposed to work for a week and am thus in the process of going slowly--no, I shouldn't even lie--rapidly crazy from boredom. When I went to the clinic for my check-up yesterday, I told the doctor that I could not take a whole week off because I am very bored. His response? "Good! You should be bored! That is your job--to be as bored as possible. It will help you get better faster!" I replied, "At the end of the week I will have to come back to the clinic for a new problem--I will no longer have a fever; instead, you will have to treat me for psychosis."

No pity. Just laughter.

The biggest lesson I have learned through this experience is that, in Vietnam, sickness--nay! feelings of bloating, nasea, and temperatures of 39+C--none of these symptoms constitude a valid excuse to skip a meal. Actually, I have yet to find any valid excuse to skip any meal. Moreover, the idea that eating (or the smells associated with the act) might make one feel EVEN MORE SICK appears to be a foriegn concept....

Thanks so very much to all of you who have written me emails during this time!! It has actually been quite a trying time for me (being locked up and unable to sleep in a clinic room in a foriegn country may lead to silly tears, not that I would know), and I have really, really, really appreciated everyone's notes of encouragement, and have, I am sure, felt all your thoughts and prayers!!

My own personal prayer for you all in return--avoid mosquitoes (especially the daytime variety) at all costs!!!


party like the moon is full

On the 15th of August (according to the Chinese Lunar Calendar) Vietnamese celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival or, as my family calls it, "Moon Day." This is not, as my (real) dad jokingly asked me, a day when people go around mooning each other. It is a holiday that is mostly for children, although adults also participate. The main fesivities, as far as I can tell, involve wearing masks and glowing horns, eating "moon cakes" (possibly the worst dessert I have ever tried), watching circuses, buying toys, and looking at the moon. Although its origins are completely different, this holiday reminds me a lot of what Halloween has evolved into in the States, minus the ghosts.

About a week ago, Co Van (my VN mom) told me that Moon Day was coming up and that I should invite some friends over for a small party. So I invited some friends and looked forward to the festivities all week. The party did not disappoint. (sidenote: my mysterious fever did not deter Co Van from holding the party. This occurred in the short "I feel better" interlude between the onset of the fever and when it worsened and I was hospitalized. I was very worried that I would be miserable during the party, but actually had a good time, although I don't think I'll be eating spring rolls for awhile--if I can help it. Which means that I probably will be eating them.....)

First, we all sat down on the floor for a meal of bun (a certain type of noodle), fried spring rolls, fresh spring rolls, and...pizza. When we were sufficiently stuffed, we moved upstairs to the living room for fruit (especially the Asian form of grapefruit, which is very popular and whose name, when mispronounced only slightly, does NOT mean grapefruit), moon cakes, custard pudding, and tea. I was given the task of reading riddles and distributing masks as prizes to those who answered correctly. Unfortunatly, the riddles were very, very, very, very poorly translated from Vietnamese to English, and I couldn't understand them at all!

We also, in typical Vietnamese fashion, were forced to sing in front of everyone. Selections included Miley Cyrus, Taylor Swift, the Beatles, and the ABCs.

All in all, it was great fun. Like Halloween without the stress of deciding what to be and then digging around at Goodwill for the elusive costume elements, and then the fear that no one will recognize what you are supposed to be...
(Please note my mask in the picture below. I chose the most ridiculous one I could find, expressly for your viewing pleasure, and am only sad that I do not have a better picture of myself in it, because I am sure it is my look.)